The 59th annual NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals, presented by “Protect the Harvest” were postponed until Monday, Feb. 11 due to heavy rains in the area. The NHRA tried several times to dry the track, but were unsuccessful. The event was delayed until after sports press time for The News.
Prior to the rains, six of the seven pairings of Top Fuel cars (there were only 14 Top Fuel cars competing) completed the first round of eliminations. Doug Kalitta defeated Scott Palmer (3.70 at 323.97 mph to 8.545 at 93.47 mph), Terry McMillen defeated Richie Crampton (3.710 at 325.61 mph to 3.731 at 329.26 mph). Also, Leah Pritchett defeated Antron Brown (3.707 at 325.61 mph to 3.733 at 329.26 mph), Billy Torrence defeated Cameron Ferre (4.103 at 266.42 mph to 7.368 at 86.02 mph), Steve Torrence defeated Steve Faria (3.688 at 330.98 mph to 4.626 at 163.18 mph) and Austin Prock defeated Brittany Force (4.029 at 312.21 mph to 5.451 at 112.72 mph). Of the pairings, the two big upsets were Pritchett defeating Brown and rookie Prock defeating Force. Pritchett damaged engines on nearly all of her qualifying attempts, never getting a true full pass, then defeated (#2 qualifier) Brown in the opening round, with her best run of the event.
Prock (son of John Force Racing Crew Jimmy Prock of Robert Hight’s Funny Car), who just completed his cross-over license procedure earlier in the week, took out Force for his first elimination round win in his first national event competition.
The final pairings match-up between Clay Millican and Mike Salinas was slated to take place at the beginning of activities on Monday. Opening elimination rounds for Funny Car and Pro Stock were then scheduled to commence, as were all the other categories competing. Weather reports indicated that the event should be able to be completed on Monday; look for a complete recap of the action in the Feb. 20 issue.
Coming into eliminations Steve Torrence claimed the top spot in Top Fuel with a strong 3.657 second pass at 331.61 mph and will have a “bye-run” (single) in the second round. Robert Hight claimed top qualifying honors in Funny Car with a very strong 3.871 seconds at 329.67 mph. Hight’s crew chief is Jimmy Prock (father of Austin Prock). In Pro Stock, Roger Brogdon took top honors with a 6.522 at 212.03 mph effort.
In an interesting note, Tony Schumacher, seven-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, was at the event, but not as a competitor. At the end of the 2018 season, the champ’s U.S. Army affiliation ended. Schumacher and his team are still in the process of signing on a new sponsor. His status for the next event in Phoenix, Arizona is still not confirmed. While at the event he was able to assist with track event announcing, as an expert commentator. Though he enjoyed the announcing duties, he fully intends to return to driving, once a new business partner has been obtained.
The second event of the 2019 NHRA season is in Phoenix, Arizona later this month.